Moral reasoning is a higher cognition activity that includes the ability to analyze data, react to possible options, and discern the subtle differences between right and wrong in a myriad of circumstances and in the face of incontrovertible evidence.
Reasoning from a moral development paradigm includes the ability to make choices based on internalized values, an understanding of the effects of gender and age on moral decision making, and a comprehension of one’s moral personality.
Being and becoming moral is a process that happens over time and is acted on and formed by a host of familial, cultural, and historical factors. In addition, a definition of moral reasoning must include values clarification, moral behavior, moral feeling, identity, character development, and service to others.
Successful moral reasoning is a result of parenting influences, cultural guidelines, and peer dynamics. The lack of moral reasoning skills and the delayed growth of the subcategories of this developmental task has proven to have an effect on the rate of delinquency, and other aberrant behaviors of adolescents.
The opposite is true as well. That is to say, the successful achievement of moral reasoning skills has been proven to affect an individual’s sense of self worth, religious affiliation, and interest in the care and concern for others.
Ultimately, moral reasoning will culminate in the development of a sense of meaning and purpose in life. This meaning is not necessarily a sense of the religious but a comprehension of a spirit, philosophy or a mindfulness of life task.
Kohlberg has advanced the idea that this developmental process happens in stages and his dilemmas are well known as tools to use in the sorting out of individual positions on moral issues. Gilligan has argued that Kohlberg’s theory does not represent the thinking of females. According to Gilligan, males are viewed as having a justice/rights orientation to moral development and females have a care/response orientation to it.
It has been advanced in studies that there remains no significant difference in the way males and females process moral dilemmas and arrive at conclusions. I will allow and determine that females may process their decisions based on a relationship orientation more often than a justice/rights orientation, and will give over to some differences in moral reasoning. However, the contrast is only in frequency, not in fundamental differences.
In terms of cultural influences, a study was conducted using Kohlberg’s theory with children from Korea and Great Britain. Each group was given two of Kohlberg’s dilemma stories and asked questions. Several conclusions were reached as a result of this study. It was found that Kohlberg’s theory is inadequate for determining the moral development of these children from these cultures. The British children were more likely to respond as North American children would.
The Korean children were affected by a cultural idea known as chung. This concept speaks of a close relationship with others that includes the dimensions of oneness, same-ness, affection, comfort, and acceptance. Because of this relationship dynamic certain responses were affected by it and certain aspects of moral reasoning could not be evaluated because Kohlberg does not take into account the cultural idea of chung.
The study also reflected the fact that British girls are less likely to conform to order, authority, and discipline than Korean girls. This was attributed to the fact that Korean society places a great deal of importance on social conformity and adherence to tradition. It was further discovered that because of the concept of matriarchal sacrifice, Korean girls were more likely to take into consideration the emotions of all parties involved in the dilemma. British children were found to be harsher in their punishments for characters in the dilemma that broke their internal code of ethics or violated perceived social norms.
In sum, moral reasoning appears at this point to be a separate and distinct higher cognition that can be influenced by culture and gender. However, the differences in gender orientation are not dramatic and can sometimes not be scientifically documented. It seems the sexes would like there to be a significant difference in moral development process, but this is more of a product of socio-political dynamics as opposed to being clearly substantiated by research.